Gaining Strength through Adversity

Wilma was only 4.2 lbs. when she was born.  As a child, Wilma had more illnesses than anyone could imagine.  These included pneumonia, scarlet fever, and polio.  While she recovered from polio, she was disabled.  Eventually, she learned to walk without any medical devices.  Her leg strength returned and by her high school years, she participated in basketball and track.  Wilma continued to compete in high school even though she became pregnant.  When Wilma was only 16 years old, she was selected to compete in the Melbourne Olympics and won a Bronze Medal.  Four years later, Wilma Rudolph won three Gold Medals in the Rome Olympics and became known as the fastest woman on earth.  As her athletic career ended, Wilma Rudolph became a pioneer for civil rights, reduction of gender barriers in sports, and the development of young athletes.

Would Wilma Rudolph ever have succeeded as she did if she hadn’t faced such adversity early in her life?  We don’t know.  But the success of other persons who have faced adversity early in their life suggests that adversity can be a driver of success if we learn from it and use it as a guiding star in our lives.  In fact, many organizations look for recovery from adversity as a part of their hiring process.

Those facing adversity have two choices:  To understand and learn from it, or to use it as an excuse for how their life has turned out.  Understanding and learning from adversity involves a realistic appreciation of what they can and cannot do in the face of adversity.  This often requires the assistance of mentors who provide both wisdom and practical guidance in dealing with the adversity.

Those who use adversity to their advantage have a spirit that is undeniable.  Their will cannot be broken.  They won’t accept pity, and they don’t relish the acclaim of others as they fight through their challenge.  Their goal is to put the adversity behind them so that it becomes something in their past.

Learning from adversity also involves the transferal of the skills they used in meeting their challenge to overcoming other challenges they may face in their lives.  This is why those who have faced adversity often become very successful in their chosen careers.

While those who have overcome adversity do not enjoy the idea that they are someone who is special, they do dedicate themselves to others facing their own life challenges.  They become mentors to others and provide the guidance and hope that was so special in their own recovery.

The lessons we learn from overcoming adversity provide development of virtually every skill and character trait needed in our society today:  Problem solving, critical thinking, positive attitude, work ethic, caring for others, self-discipline, and a belief in the value of every person.

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“Show me someone who has done something worthwhile, and I’ll show you someone who has overcome adversity.”  – Lou Holtz (former football coach at Notre Dame)

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